Southern Workers Assembly: A Rank-and-file Call to Action for Labor to Mobilize to Join the Front Line Struggle

by on May 19, 2013

Starting in late April and continuing into July, several thousand people from across North Carolina, lead by Rev. William Barber II, President of the NC NAACP have marched every Monday into the state legislative building in Raleigh and packed the rotunda. Over 600 people at the various actions blocked the door to the Senate chambers and refused to move until they were arrested.

Listing legislative assault after legislative assault on poor and working people, he questioned the crowd in his fiery sermon: “What do we do when we are under attack? “ The crowd chanted in response: “We fight; we fight; we fight!”

On May 13, Southern Workers Assembly Co-Coordinator Saladin Muhammad, along with several rank-and-file members of UE local 150-NC Public Service Workers Union, American Postal Workers Union, National Association of Letter Carriers and a staff person from the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (AFL-CIO) and several student labor activists got arrested as part of a labor delegation.  More labor activists have been arrested since then. Below is a statement that was issued from the SWA at the rally:

We are here as a rank-and-file labor delegation, to visibly join in this important frontline struggle for civil and human rights; and as a call to action for other rank-and-file workers in unions and worker organizations throughout the state to become a more visible and organized part of this struggle at our workplaces and communities, and not allow our voices to be silenced or separated from the voices of the people.

The attacks on workers, the poor, and marginalize and immigrant communities, in addition to being an attack on the core human needs and rights that all who honor social justice have fought, got beaten, gone to jail and died for, is also aimed at silencing our collective voices and actions to challenge these human rights violations. Those in power in the NC legislature are trying to dis-empower and dismantle the organizations of working and poor people that unite us across race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality and abilities to act and speak collectively against the injustices that we experience on our jobs and in society.

The bills that seek to gut the state personnel act, that cut the amount and length of time of unemployment benefits, to ban the use of payroll deduction for state and local government workers to voluntary contribute union dues, to make the ban on collective bargaining rights for public sector workers and voluntary card check for private sector workers a constitutional amendment, and to cut Medicare instead of expanding it when there are millions without health insurance and voting rights, are an attack on basic democracy.

Yet, these legislators are doing everything to increase the power of the employers to exploit, mistreat and divide the workers to increase their power, including their power to privatize vital public services. They want organization, power and resources for the chambers of commerce, the manufacturing associations, the corporate lobbyists, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and cuts in corporate taxes. They want to bring the Art Popes and other corporate elites to have direct power and control over all branches of government.

If we don’t take a stand to defend and expand democracy, we are risking losing the weak job security rights we have, we are risking the rights and dignity of future generations, as we see the education of our children now being sacrificed before our very eyes.

The attacks on the people’s rights are an attack on labor rights; and the attack on labor’s rights an attack on the people’s rights.

North Carolina Regional Worker Speak-out Forums

Sponsored by Southern Workers Assembly, UE local 150-NC Public Service Workers Union, Public Schools First NC, Nat’l Association on Mental Illness-Granville Co, Teamsters local 391, NC Association of Educators, International Worker Justice Campaign

  • Sat. June 8: Granville/Vance/Person/Warren County area: 11:00am – 1:00pm
    Betty Lue’s Restaurant
    1597 HWY 56E Creedmoor, NC
    More info call 252-314-2363
  • Sat. June 15: Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area: 4:00pm
    NCAE building
    700 South Salisbury St. Raleigh
    To help or participate call 919-231-2660
  • Sat. June 22: Goldsboro/Wilson/Kinston/Greenville/Rocky Mount area: 1:00pm – 3:00pm
    Rebuilding Broken Places
    2105 N William St Goldsboro
    For more info call 919-273-2735

FLOC and allies March on Reynolds Shareholders Meeting and Demand the Company do More Than Talk

by on May 18, 2013

Farmworkers and their supporters turned out in full force on May 9 at the Reynolds American 2013 Shareholders Meeting.  At one of the largest and most energetic events since the beginning of the campaign, over 300 people including labor, clergy, students, and community allies rallied and marched through the city calling on Reynolds to do more than just talk with FLOC.

Over 40 allies went inside the meeting that morning, armed with points of order and questions to keep the meeting’s focus on farmworker issues. Reynolds executives were clearly rattled by the large presence and persistent questions, and fumbled over important questions such as how they planned to ensure that human trafficking did not exist in their supply chain. In an interview with the Winston Salem Journal following the meeting, Reynolds said they were taking steps to improve conditions on farms, including participating in multi-lateral talks with a variety of stakeholders, talking directly with FLOC, and partnering with Telamon, an agency which provides grants to farmers to improve migrant housing.

But we won’t let Reynolds just throw some money at the problem. Farmworkers don’t need charity, they need fair pay and fair work conditions. Reynolds executives committed to meeting with FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez on May 23rd. The Campaign for freedom of association and collective bargaining rights in the tobacco supply chain will continue until an agreement is signed and we will let our allies know about developments and next steps.

Thanks to all who came out to support and those who were there in spirit. Hasta la victoria!

Georgia Teamster sanitation workers organize and vote to strike

by on March 12, 2013

Sanitation workers in McDonough, Ga., walk out

By Dianne Mathiowetz on April 28, 2013

Republic workers’ picket signs echo Memphis sanitation strike of 1968. Photo: Ben Speight

Republic workers’ picket signs echo Memphis sanitation strike of 1968.
Photo: Ben Speight

An important labor strike is happening in McDonough, Ga., just south of Atlanta. Workers at Republic Services/Allied Waste are members of Teamsters Local 728 who won their election in 2011. They began an unfair labor practices strike on April 15, caused in part by the illegal firing of a union supporter.

Republic Services is a waste management company with contracts in numerous cities and counties across the U.S. It made $572 million in profits last year. Its single largest stockholder is Bill Gates, who owns some 25 percent of its shares.

Republic has negotiated contracts in other locations, including Atlanta, that provide higher wages, holiday pay for Martin Luther King Day and other benefits that it refuses to give the McDonough workers.

A big issue for these garbage workers who drive big trucks and pick up tons of waste matter every day is safety. They charge that the equipment is faulty and that repairs are not made despite their filing repeated reports. A day’s work can stretch to 14 hours or more. They say the company is cheating them by not paying for the time it takes to bring the truck back to the yard when their route is done.

The company’s insulting response to the demand for a paid holiday on MLK day was to hold a barbecue for the employees that day.

This past Jan. 21, many McDonough Republic workers marched with other area sanitation workers at the front of the annual King Day event in Atlanta. Of special significance was the presence of Memphis sanitation workers, whose struggle for a union and respect on the job brought Dr. King to that city 50 years ago. He was assassinated there on April 4, 1968.

Republic workers are walking the picket line in other places, too. Outside Youngstown, Ohio, workers have taken on the company’s anti-worker stance. That strike began March 27, and sympathy walkouts spread to at least five other Ohio locations. Job actions at Republic facilities in California and Tennessee also occurred in this same time period.

“I’m on strike because this giant waste corporation thinks it can get away with breaking the law to intimidate us and bully us, and cheat us out of pay for time that we worked,” said Renard Henley, a residential driver in McDonough. “We organized and chose to be represented by the Teamsters in 2011, but the company refuses to bargain in good faith with us for a fair contract. I’ve been talking with other workers on the Facebook page, and we have been following the Youngstown strike closely. We have all had enough of the company’s greed.” (teamsters. org, April 15)

Following an interview with Republic strikers on “The Labor Forum,” a show on Atlanta’s progressive community radio station WRFG 89.3 FM, a temp worker who had been placed by his agency at Republic for a month called in. He said that when he saw the picket line on April 15, he refused to take the job. He knew them to be hard workers and he supported their efforts to be treated fairly. “I wouldn’t be able to look myself in the mirror if I didn’t stand with them,” he said.

Similarly, a customer brought her garbage bags to the door of the Republic offices and told them to do right by the workers.

The McDonough Republic workers have maintained a 24-hour picket line with high spirits and strong solidarity from other Teamsters and union activists. For additional information, contact Teamsters Local 728.

GA Teamster Sanitation Workers

Check out the links below about the McDonough, Georgia Republic Services sanitation worker’s successful organizing campaign in 2011 and their participation, with workers from Memphis and Dekalb County sanitation, in this year’s Atlanta MLK march on 1/21/13.

In early March 2013, the workers took over their company safety meeting with chants of “What do we want? Contract!” and announced directly to their management team that they had taken and unanimously voted in favor of the strike authorization.

The Company responded with providing additional dates for bargaining. The workers intend to keep the pressure on until we reach a tentative agreement for fair and just collective bargaining agreement.

SWA Stands with Exploited Filipino Workers in Louisiana

by on February 14, 2013

On November 16, 2012, three Filipino “guestworkers” were killed in an explosion while working for Black Elk Energy Company in Louisiana waters. These workers were lured to Louisiana with the offer of employer-provided housing and high wages, but arrived to live and work in despicable and dangerous conditions at sub-minimum wages. A group of these Filipino workers have filed a class-action lawsuit and engaged in a campaign to end these labor abuses. On February 20th, a delegation from New York will travel to Louisiana on a fact-finding mission to ensure that the truth behind the deaths at GIS is made public.Filipino GIS Workers Event UNC Feb 20 2013

Guestworkers face particularly challenging labor conditions, as their visa is tied to continued employment with an individual employer, creating a huge imbalance of power. However, exploitation is not unique to their particular industry or even to guestworker programs. Similar to other US workers, whether citizens, legal residents, or undocumented, these workers have been denied the most basic labor rights due to the greed of a company that put profits over people. SWA supports the organization of all workers and their right to bargain collectively in order to address workplace grievances.

Today, the Southern Workers Assembly (SWA), a coalition of Southern labor organizations has officially endorsed the “Justice for Grand Isle Shipyard Filipino Workers” campaign, the fact-finding mission, and pledges to use the SWA network to build support for these workers in their pursuit of justice.

As Southern worker organizations, we fully understand the racism and workplace exploitation that plagues this region and through experience, we have learned that these employers must be confronted by broad coalitions taking direction from the rank-and-file.

The SWA will support the fact finding delegation as it travels through North Carolina and calls on affiliated organizations to work with BAYAN and their allies to call attention to this tragedy and ensure that:

  • The families of the deceased workers are fairly compensated
  • Stolen wages are returned to workers and their families
  • Current and former GIS workers be granted temporary visas (U or T)
  • GIS be investigated and prosecuted fully for its role in the death of these workers and the ongoing labor law violations
  • The US and Filipino government be held accountable for exploitative guestworker programs

Download the Solidarity Statement

Organize the South!

Collective Bargaining is a Right!

Charlotte, N.C., city workers win important victory

by on January 22, 2013

By Dante Strobino on January 22, 2013

UE 150, firefighter association, Charlotte Central Labor Council members and community supporters gather in Charlotte city council lobby Jan. 14.  Photo: UE 150

UE 150, firefighter association, Charlotte Central Labor Council members and community supporters gather in Charlotte city council lobby Jan. 14. Photo: UE 150

The City Council in Charlotte, N.C., voted 6-5 on Jan. 14 to approve payroll dues deduction for all five city worker unions with no membership restrictions. Charlotte will join three other North Carolina cities, Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, in granting this right to municipal employee organizations. North Carolina is the least unionized state in the country, with less than 2.9 percent union membership.

The right to collective bargaining for public workers is still banned by General Statute 95-98, yet both state and federal constitutions affirm that workers do have the right to join a union.

“This vote shows they recognize the union, and the union’s here,” says James “Al” Locklear, a sanitation worker and president of the United Electrical Workers Local 150, the Charlotte City Workers chapter. “The next step is to get organized. Now is the time to fight for better pay and treatment.”

Charlotte  is where the 1959 ban on collective bargaining originated, because of the bankers’ fear of organized — largely African-American — city workers, including firefighters. The city has been deemed by activists as “the Wall Street of the South,” since it is home to Bank of America headquarters and the East Coast operational center of Wells Fargo.

It is important to note that at the opening of the 2013 legislative session, during House Speaker Thom Tillis’ (R) speech to lawmakers, he said he intends to protect right-to-work-for-less and keep North Carolina the least unionized state — to great applause in a chamber where Republicans gained a veto-proof majority in the 2012 election. The pro-big-business and Duke-Energy puppet, former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, was just elected governor in November.

Victory after decades of organizing

At the same time that workers’ rights are getting slashed all over the country and Michigan recently became a “right-to-work-for-less” state, Charlotte city workers impressively won this important victory. The historic win comes after decades of organizing in the South. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, while standing with striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn., fighting for the right to collectively bargain.

The N.C. Public Service Workers Union, UE 150, began organizing city workers in Charlotte over six years ago, and has helped defend against privatization, unjust terminations and much more. The International Association of Firefighters local also played a critical role in winning this victory.

During the month leading up to the Democratic National Convention in August, UE 150 and the Charlotte City Workers chapter, assisted by many community activists including the Coalition to March on Wall Street South, organized weekly pickets in front of the City Council. They demanded payroll dues deduction and passage of a City Workers Bill of Rights.

City workers were then forced to work seven days a week for 10-14 hours a day during the DNC and were banned from wearing their city uniforms at City Council meetings. However, many courageous workers defied this attempt to silence their voices and did attend the rallies and spoke out at the City Council.

On Sept. 3, Labor Day and the opening day of the DNC in Charlotte, UE, the Food and Commerical Workers union, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee and other labor unions hosted a Southern Workers Assembly. There, rank-and-file workers from across the South spoke out about right-to-work-for-less laws and difficulties in organizing. These actions helped draw international attention to the struggle of Charlotte city workers and forced the City Council to officially begin discussing the workers’ demands, including payroll deduction.